Exclusive: Tara Macken - District 4 Tribute in "The Hunger Games"

Exclusive Interview with Tara Macken of The Hunger Games
Interview by Jamie Ruby
Written by Jamie Ruby

Tara MackenThe hot new movie this spring is Hunger Games, which opens today in theaters everywhere. The film is based on the first book in a series, written by Suzanne Collins. The film is set in the future in the country of Panem where the Capitol chooses a boy and girl as representatives from each of twelve districts to fight to the death on live television.

The tribute girl of District 4 is played by Tara Macken, who is both an actress and stunt performer. She has worked on projects such as Sons of Anarchy, The Nine Lives of Chloe King, and more recently the movie In Time. She also has stunt work in the upcoming films Battleship and G.I. Joe: Retaliation, to name a few.

Macken recently talked to Jamie Ruby of SciFi Vision in an exclusive interview.

Tara MackenBoth acting and stunts are enjoyable to Macken. "To be honest, they're pretty much the same thing in my opinion. Even when you're doing stunts and you're working on film and you're doing all the action, you're basically acting out the character you're either playing or doubling.

"So it's still the same thing, you just may have no lines or you may have lines. But it's all the same category and the only difference with acting is typically you're not allowed to do your own stunts. [I have] the best of both worlds because I can do all the acting but also most people give me the freedom to be the physical person that I am and bring that to every show that I work on."

The physical aspect is part of the appeal. "It's so much fun! Actually, there're a lot of people who probably wouldn't like it but come on! Jumping, flipping, fighting, it's wonderful."

There is a difference, however, when you are doubling someone. "One big difference is when you are doing your own character, it's huge, you can do whatever comes natural to you, but sometimes when you double you have to see how they walk and how they hold themselves. It's like a fine balancing act between the actor and yourself, because you want to teach them how to fight and how to do certain actions, because they're not as well versed in that scene in terms of the action. Conversely, if the actor is more dainty and you are a really strong person, you have to find a middle ground where you can still be that dainty person that they expect, as from the actress, but still have the strength that she eventually needs to have. So it's a very fine line, but if you do your job right, no one can tell."

Macken's favorite is getting to do both acting and stunt work in a project. "I think my favorite jobs are the ones where I essentially have my character, but they let me do all the action. I think that's been the most fun, because I am an extremely physical person; when I get to be that physical person and the actual character it's wonderful. The Hunger Games is my first time acting in a feature, and it is definitely a different experience working from the TV world to being in a feature, it was pretty cool."

There are quite a few differences when comparing stunts in television and film. "I guess that the one big difference is that on a TV show you don't typically have time to rehearse the stunt. You have a couple of hours to rehearse the gag, and if you're lucky a day to prep it. It's kind of on the fly and you really have to have good instincts to make sure that everything goes according to plan and how you worked it out the day before. On a film, you have the luxury of working on a scene for two weeks or a month just to make sure that it's as perfect as planned out."

Over her career, Macken has gotten to do some really crazy and fun stunts, but she loves it and has always felt safe. "I've been very fortunate to be really well prepared and work with really good people to make sure that my safety is always ensured. In terms of those that may have gotten me a little bit anxious, but it was all fun - I got to jump out of a helicopter and rappel about 90 feet for a Nike commercial. So it was me and three other Navy SEAL guys, and I personally had never rappelled out of a helicopter, speed rappelled with a bunch of Marines, so that was pretty bad ass.

"I have been very, very fortunate and luckily I have the skills to do the jobs that come my way. Like I was one of the lead stunt doubles on The Nine Lives of Chloe King, so it was cool because I got to work and I got to literally jump over buildings. I got to essentially be a cat and do flips around cars, off buildings; I got to fight people in warehouses. I got to fight somebody with fire."

The stunt performer has had weapon training as well. "I have a lot of friends who train me in wushu martial arts. So my weapon training involves straight sword, broadsword, rapier and bow staff. Oh and katana, of course.

"In my car, in my back seat, I have about four swords, punching gloves, roller skates, I have every single climbing equipment and stunt pad in my Hybrid."

Macken originally found out about the audition for Hunger Games from the stunt coordinator working on the film. "I got referred by the stunt coordinator, he knows me and he knows that I'm an actress and a stunt performer. And so he passed along my information and my resume and headshot to Gary Ross (the director), and then Gary selected the people that he wanted to see audition. So I came in for the audition and then I booked it."

Macken had never heard of The Hunger Games before she was cast, but has since read the book. "I went in for the audition for Debra Zane and I read the sides and the director picked my head shot out of the stunt actors to come in for the part. And so after I booked it I was looking, I didn't even know what this book was about. And I'm so glad I did, the book's amazing. And now I know all about it.

"This is one of those books that you need to have free time, because you won't put it down. I'm also a big Harry Potter fan, so you need to have the weekend and no distractions, and you can finish the book."

Because of the fan anticipation of The Hunger Games, the production was kept secret. "They did a really, really amazing job of keeping it as secretive as possible. There were code names for everything and no fans. It was very hush-hush about the locations where we were filming and the costumes and characters. Everything was under wraps."

Before filming started, Macken had to go through some training. "Before we started getting into the filming of it, we had a whole week of training. So we spent eight hours a day just grinding at the scenes and working out the battles and training just so we'd be more prepared for the characters later on. It was totally helpful and it was a lot of fun and it was a good opportunity for everybody to get to know each other better."

Macken plays one of the District 4 tributes in the film. "I'm one of the tributes. I'm from the fifth world, which is a fishing district, so a lot of my character reflects the attributes of fishing and water and aquarium life. My character in the book, and also in the film, is one of the stronger tributes, because I'm one of the older tributes and stronger as opposed to my other district partner, who is noted in the book as being really, really small. So it was a good comparison having me being the stronger, bigger tribute and then my partner being this 4'11" little guy."

There is not a lot that she can reveal about the film, but as anyone who has any knowledge of the books knows, her character doesn't survive. "Everyone dies. It's kind of this awesomely, morbid story. There's a bunch of kids they're all pitted against each other and only one of them can survive."

Macken loved working with the cast and crew on the film. "I think my favorite part was working with the cast and crew. A lot of the shows I work on, the majority of the cast are older, and so it was interesting to work with my peers. It was a completely different energy and vibe going from this show to a different show where everyone's a bit older and more experienced. So for this one, literally everyone was so supportive and so happy to be there. It almost felt like summer camp because no one's complaining, everyone's ready to go to work and do whatever and play and sing and dance. I felt like I was in a weird version of Glee that involved a lot of fighting."

She may have worked long hours on the film, but it was worth it to Macken. "I think what I learned just from watching everybody, and in a sense of just keeping everybody optimistic and to remind yourself that you are doing a really cool, awesome job. Because you are working fourteen, sixteen hour days sometimes, and you may be working late nights too, or you're in not the easiest environment to work in. So I think I've just been watching people working and it reminds you that you are doing something amazing; you're doing something worthwhile and something that you have wanted to do since you were a kid.

"And [I've learned] to not forget that feeling of how awesome it is to be in that position, and I guess, appreciation, because sometimes when you're working with people who have been doing films and TV for 20 plus years, and for them it's almost like a day job, and so you kind of pick up that vibe. So when you are doing something that has such a huge fan following, that has such a great, happy cast, you think, "Wow this is cool." "

Macken is happy to have a role in such a huge film, but she remembers that everyone is there to do a job, many of which she has done before, and she remembers what it was like. "I think that another thing is that this isn't my first job. I've worked in different jobs and so to be in this position, where you're a character on the show, and you're kind of a big character, it was great to be finally be in the spot where you've seen everybody else on set, and you're like, "I've been there, I've been in that job, and I can talk to you and be cool," because once upon a time I was in that position and it sucked, like for example, being an extra in a music video, or commercial, or whatever where everybody basically shunned you or didn't talk to you, where everybody ignored you. So finally being in a position where you have more responsibility on set, I definitely try to be nicer to everybody because everybody is there and everyone's your coworker, essentially."

The director was good about letting the cast develop their character. "Gary was good about staying to the story, since it's so story-based, but also giving you enough juice that you can improvise and feel it out a bit, but not go too overboard."

There weren't a lot of digital special effects used, at least where Macken was concerned. "My experience, from watching, is that it is pretty minimal on the special effects, as compared to other big movies. The stuff that I did was all practical, nothing was CG. At least in my scenes there're not a lot of special effects or green screens."

A movie premiere will be a somewhat new experience for Macken. "I'm really stoked about the premiere. That's going to be awesome.

Tara Macken"I've been to the premiere of Sons of Anarchy, which was fun, but they were premiering the new season of a TV show, so I think it was a completely different feeling, going from that premiere to a big feature. So that's going to be an interesting experience. And of course it's at the Nokia Theater, one of the most well-known theaters in Los Angeles."

Besides The Hunger Games, Macken has some other projects coming up, including the film Battleship. "It was cool because it was my first job where I got to do a lot of driving, not a lot of stunt driving, but more like precision stunt driving, so that was cool to have that responsibility, but also I got to be a passenger in a bus, and the bus explodes."

Another upcoming project for Macken is the video game Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City, for which she did motion capture. "It was one of my first motion capture jobs...It was really cool. They have the suits with all the shiny balls - it honestly feels like you're in Tron, because you're in a big studio with cameras all around you and before you start your action you have to do this T shape with your upper body. I know it's super dorky, but it's like you're powering up, then you do your action, and then when you're done you power down and do the T shape again. And you are like "Okay, that's the end of the game."

Macken also recently worked on another motion capture job, but she can't reveal the title. "[I did] another motion capture gig, about two weeks ago...The cool thing is, it's a really good tool for actors because I had to play six different characters, and since motion capture is just special effects, I'd be able to figure out the differences between this character physically and vocally as compared to another character. Whereas if you do a character as yourself, you walk and talk like yourself, but when you are playing six people, you think well maybe this character is left handed, maybe the next character walks with her hips more. Maybe this character's a little more hunched over because he's older, so I think that was a really good challenge and good practice for me as an actress...One scene you're playing the bad guy, the good guy, and then you're playing a bunch of zombies."

Macken has even more upcoming roles on television and in film. "I also stunt doubled Jinx in G.I. Joe 2: Retaliation. That's a female ninja...

"Also I guest starred on an episode of Children's Hospital, that I just shot a couple of weeks ago. I got to play Henry Winkler's daughter. So it was cool just to be the Fonz's daughter.

"I also did some stunts in Star Trek 2. This year definitely started with a bang to say the least."

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